The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in disappointing fashion: the 17-3 score was an accurate reflection of what happened on the field. And that means there are plenty of losers to talk about—but also a few winners.
Head coach Dirk Koetter
At 2-5, the Bucs’ season is close to being definitively over. That’s bad enough for the head coach of a team that was supposed to be a playoff contender. Making it worse is the fact that this latest loss is due entirely to the offense, which is Koetter’s wheelhouse.
The Bucs scored just three points, turned the ball over three times, and did that despite a wealth of offensive weapons and a good quarterback. That’s an exception this season, as the Bucs’ offense has mostly been impressive, especially through the air, but this is a very disappointing performance nonetheless.
Even worse for Koetter, the Bucs have now lost four consecutive games. If that streak continues, we may have to start talking about Koetter’s job security. He’s not in danger of being fired now, but the Bucs have a very tough remaining schedule, and it’s not inconceivable that this four-game losing streak turns into a ten-game losing streak.
Quarterback Jameis Winston
Winston was coming off one of the best games of his career, and turned in one of the worst performances of his career against the Panthers. Three turnovers, only 210 yards on 38 attempts, no touchdowns on offense at all, and ever close to scoring one, either.
Part of that lack of production was no doubt due to a shoulder injury. Winston played through it last week, but reaggravated it too—and Koetter said yesterday that Winston once again reaggravated the injury in the fourth quarter in this game. So likely this performance was just a blip, but that doesn’t make the actual performance any better.
The offensive line gave up four sacks, committed four penalties, and had a lot of trouble sustaining a running game. This was probably their worst game this season, and a major disappointment given the line’s general improvement this year. Donovan Smith was probably the worst player on the line with two holding penalties, but everyone joined in the malaise to some extent.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves
After being demoted to slot corner last week, Hargreaves had a very solid game against the Carolina Panthers. It seems getting benched lit a fire under him, and saw him knock away two passes. Hopefully he can keep this level of play up, and not revert to his early-season and rookie self.
Safety Justin Evans
While Evans got beat for a touchdown by Kelvin Benjamin, he had an otherwise outstanding game. He knocked out one pass in the red zone, and was consistently over the top of sideline routes on deep attempts—something we haven’t seen in Tampa since before Tanard Jackson’s days of not being permanently suspended. Evans isn’t there yet, but early indications are that he’ll be a very good player before long.
Safety Chris Conte
Conte’s been much-maligned in Tampa, but he had another solid game to add to a string of pretty decent performances. Most importantly, he picked off Cam Newton on a great move to undercut a route. Conte’s never going to be a Pro Bowl player, but it seems he’s a valuable starter nonetheless—and that’s evidenced by his mostly keeping T.J. Ward on the bench.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith
Coming off a disastrous performance against the Buffalo Bills, Mike Smith’s defense had something to prove—and it did. They limited the Panthers to just 17 points, despite the defense turning the ball over three times. While the pass-rush was still lacking, especially in terms of sack production (0), the Bucs defense proved that they at least have the talent to put up some quality performances. Now they just need to do it more than once a month.